Over the last three seasons, Tyler Clippard's 214 innings pitched were the fourth-highest total amongst NL relievers, behind only the Colorado Rockies' relievers Matt Belisle (214 ⅔ IP) and Adam Ottavino (222 ⅓ IP), and Clippard's now-former Washington Nationals teammate Craig Stammen (242 ⅔ IP).
Since the Nats traded Clippard to the Oakland A's this winter, however, they'll have to find a way to replace the right-hander in the eighth inning he handled last season and fill in the innings he threw for the NL East champs.
"It's not easy," Nationals' skipper Matt Williams told reporters today when asked about finding a way to cover that workload.
"Those guys are really unique," Williams said of the now-former Nats' set-up man. "[Clippard] is extremely unique in that regard. The ability to go multiple days in a row in a high-leverage, high-pressure situation is unique.
"So we'll have to look at it and at this point say, 'Okay, well maybe we ought to match up a little more.' As it was last year, that eighth inning was his. It may be that we match up in the eighth inning."
Will the second-year skipper really dispense with standard bullpen roles in favor of matchups?
Without an option like Clippard, who was able to get both left (.189/.271/.318) and right-handers (.193/.280/.353) out over the course of his career, adopting a different approach and matching up might be the way to go.
"[Clippard] had great splits," Williams explained. "He got lefties out just as well as he got righties out. So, that may be a matchup situation, depending on the game, depending on the team, depending on volume prior, all of those things come into play. So we'll look at that.
"As we get deeper into Spring, get the guys in some of those situations where we're matching up potentially in the eighth inning to get the ball to the ninth inning and close it out, hopefully. That's kind of the plan. Again, as we know, nothing ever goes to plan. So we'll evaluate as we go, but that may be an opportunity for us to do some matching up."
Will that affect the decision-making process when it comes to the construction of the Nationals' 2015 bullpen? Does he need two lefties, or three?
"There's no preference," Williams said. "It's about what we need at the time. You look at [Clippard] and speak about [Clippard] and he provides you a lefty at the same time providing you a righty, that's why he's so unique.
"As far as the construction of the bullpen, it's not about how many lefties we have, it's about the ability for our righties to get lefties out too. Because, with the exception of the [eighth] inning we're talking about, there's opportunities for our right-handers to get lefties out too. Seventh inning. Drew [Storen] did it last year in the seventh. Certainly the closer has to do it. That's part of the deal too. So we'll evaluate as we get through and determine how many left-handed pitchers we want to take with us. That will be an educated decision. That will be a decision that is talked about quite frequently and we'll evaluate that and as we get to the end of Spring Training, we'll know."